Review : Joe Ely - Satisfied at Last
PopmattersJoe Ely has been releasing albums under his own name since the late 1970s, and the muses have typically been on his side. Like his frequent touring partner, John Hiatt, he’s never managed to strike with a commercial audience despite a canonization in singer-songwriter circles, his name always spoken in hushed, reverential tones wherever three or more are gathered with a guitar, a can of pork and beans, and a starlit night full of pickin’ and grinnin’. Ely, his fans, his peers, and maybe even his pets, have probably given up hope that he’ll ever achieve anything approaching commercial success, and that’s OK, but we’ve all come to expect that a bad Joe Ely album is probably better than a good album from some lesser although more visible artists.
The trouble is, Satisfied at Last is a weak album, period, whether it bears the name Joe Ely or Joe Blow. Maybe it’s telling that one of the tracks is “Not That Much Has Changed”. Although it’s probably not Ely’s acknowledgement of artistic resignation, it sure sounds like a man who isn’t working very hard to up his game. There are boarded-up windows, ways of life fading, easy rhymes, and predictable guitar licks aplenty, but nothing that distinguishes the tune from a bajillion other observations of aching and aging. “Satisfied at Last” features a troubadour looking back at his trials, tribulations, and contemplating the moment when he moves from this world to the next—it’s predictable enough that you can almost hear the guitars rolling their eyes with each chord and the microphones yawning in disbelief.
The same might be said for “Live Forever”, in which Ely sings about crossing the river—and not the Llano or the Colorado. It’s full of sage advice as Ely struggles to sound profound while he plays the part of a man slowly moving toward his twilight years. He musters a faulty chorus that gets repeated one too many times in a slender three minutes, but there’s nothing there that’s worthy of its creator. There’s also the half-baked reggae number “Roll Again”, which isn’t worthy of a band playing a back alley pizza joint on a Tuesday night, let alone one of the giants of American songwriting. Equally forgettable is “I’m a Man Now”, an attempt at swamp blues that only winds up sound like a man stranded in the woods with his foot in the mud....full text
RoothogradioJoe Ely sings with the voice of authority. Sure, there may be other singers with more twang or a deeper country sound, yet when Ely sings – anything, actually – wise folks stop and listen. That innate ability is amply on display once again with Satisfied Mind, a 10-song collection of uniquely Texan philosophy.
Satisfaction can be an illusive prey, and Ely doesn’t suggest that finding it is any easy road. For instance “Roll Again,” which rolls like a light boat on the sea to a reggae beat, points out how trial and error play a big part in the path to contentment. If you roll, and the good numbers don’t come your way, simply roll again.
Ely calls upon Billy Joe Shaver, perhaps country music’s greatest philosopher, for a lovely Tex-Mex-styled version of “Live Forever.” Joel Guzman’s lively accordion drives this song about how a long life is closely tied to living right. Ely also covers a song from his fellow Flatlanders’ mate, Butch Hancock, with “Leo and Leona,” which reminds us that true love is always the most beautiful work of art....full text
CountrystandardtimeOften, it seems that a veteran singer getting into his or her 60s or 70s will start writing more frequently about life and death. While the results can often be compelling (the best parts of Johnny Cash's "American Recordings" sessions, for example), they can also be plain depressing (the worst parts of "American Recordings"). Then, there's the Joe Ely approach. On his new album, "Satisfied At Last," Ely, 64, says he wants his ashes loaded into some shotgun shells and blasted across the Texas countryside. Touching? Not exactly, but it's nice to hear Ely's customary swagger even when singing about his own mortality.
"Satistied at Last" finds Ely in a reflective mood. The Highway Is My Home could be the theme song for many a traveling musician, while Not That Much Has Changed finds that traveler coming back home again. If Ely is thinking about his current place in life, he's at least treating it as a temporary stop and not his final destination. Witness I'm a Man Now, which indicates that he may just be hitting his prime.
All the songs are delivered with the usual mixture of Tex-Mex, traditional country and roadhouse rock. Frequent collaborators like Joel Guzman on accordion and keys and guitarists David Holt, Lloyd Maines and Teye are all present. The biggest departure from Ely's typical sound is the reggae-tinged Roll Again, but it fits in nicely with the album's philosophical bent. "Nobody's satisfied with the road they chose to ride/Oh, let it go, roll again," he sings....full text
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